The Elantra’s new flagship model offers a step up in performance and premium quality...

Two years after its global reveal, the new Hyundai Elantra has finally arrived in South Africa. Given the fact that its predecessor secured our Top 12 Best Buys Compact Sedan title in 2012 and 2013, we were eager to see what the new model had to offer. Our test car is the flagship T-GDi Elite fitted with the turbocharged 1,6-litre, 150 kW engine and seven-speed dual-clutch transmission found in the equivalent Veloster; the result is a surprising amount of grunt.

The new Elantra’s exterior is best described as a safe evolution of the previous generation and, like other new Hyundais we’ve seen, such as the Tucson and Creta, it’s a handsome car rather than a striking one. The Elite’s looks only hint at its performance advantages over the rest of its siblings, with LED daytime-running lights and a slightly restyled front grille. The rear incorporates a mild diffuser alongside a similarly mild twin-exhaust tailpiece.

Inside it’s a similar story. The interior gains a set of racy red leather seats, a pleasantly finished flat-bottomed multifunction steering wheel with red contrast stitching and some sturdy steel pedals. As the Korean manufacturers have done with every succeeding generation, the new Elantra’s cabin is a step up in both build and material quality. All of the components feel well finished and most are soft to the touch.

Interior packaging is not class-leading, but with a measured boot space of 384 litres and rear legroom of 654 mm, it’s in line with competitors. Standard features in this trim include an armrest, six airbags, a 60:40-split rear folding seat and an infotainment system with MirrorLink functionalities and satellite navigation. These are, it must be said, features you would expect as standard at this price point, although you don’t get items such as a glass sunroof, electrically driver’s seat or blind-spot monitoring, which come standard on a model like the Mazda3 Sedan 2,0 Astina. This is always a somewhat subjective call, but the NVH levels seemed impressively low and we measured an idle interior noise level reading of 40 dBA – one of the lowest we have seen.

The focal point of the T-GDi Elite, however, is the powertrain and, as mentioned, it’s a layout that Hyundai has used before. In this Elantra, however, it feels punchier … something that was confirmed in our test results. Whereas Hyundai claims a 0-100 km/h time of 7,7 seconds and a top speed of 210 km/h (about right for 1 373 kg vehicle with an engine this size), our performance testing posted a 0-100 km/h time of 6,84 seconds. That’s not only significantly quicker than the official stat, but it’s almost half a second quicker than the Veloster 1,6 T-GDi.

The Elantra’s in-gear acceleration tests also indicated the car was able to carry that momentum through the gears and it displayed a 100-120 km/h time of 2,56 seconds. The Elantra was also impressive in scrubbing off all this speed, boasting an average 100-0 km/h stopping time of 2,79 seconds, a figure that can be attributed to the 305 mm front ventilated brake disks and the grippy Hankook Ventus Prime rubber.

While these figures are no doubt impressive for a turbocharged 1,6-litre engine, the general demeanour of the Elantra doesn’t quite match the powertrain’s performance. While the rear multilink suspension does make the vehicle feel planted in corners, it’s certainly not a car that enjoys being pushed to the limit. Hyundai has dialled a little more comfort into the ride quality and when pushing on – as encouraged by the engine – there are hints of understeer and slight signs of instability under hard braking. In an everyday setting, however, the Elantra possesses a comfortable and refined demeanour. The suspension provides a softly sprung ride and works well with the responsive, electrically assisted steering.



TEST SUMMARY

At R399 900, the new Elantra's range-topper is pricier than its forebear, but it is a more premium product than before and does offer generous standard specification and a five-year/90 000 km service plan. With this new-generation car, the Elantra remains a well-rounded product that, given its spec, is competitively priced and remains a worthy sedan alternative to the ubiquitous SUVs and crossovers.

Acceleration stats aside, it may not quite live up to that Sport badge branded on its boot lid, but this flagship model does offer a premium driving experience. That said, if you're willing to trade the punch offered by the 1,6-litre turbopetrol and its dual-clutch transmission for a more relaxed, naturally aspirated 2,0-litre with a six-speed torque converter, the similarly specced 115 kW 2,0 Elite is worth looking at. For one thing, it's R50 000 cheaper and, although on paper it's heavier on fuel, we'd bet in real-world conditions their consumption figures would be more closely matched.

*From the September 2017 issue of CAR magazine